Players are in awe of Yetur Gross-Matos’ hands when rushing the quarterback. Micah Parsons is known for his quickness and athleticism.
Shaka Toney is a solid athlete, but he sets himself apart with something other than his physical attributes.
It’s Toney’s intellect that makes him unique.
Everyone seems to praise his work ethic in the film room, understanding how to exploit the defense.
“If you want to have the leg up on your opponent before you jump on the field, know everything about him and know everything about the team you’re going against…” Toney said. “The more you know, the faster you can play.”
That was evident last week against Purdue, where he recorded three first-half sacks. He saw a weakness and exploited it.
“Not only does he have great quickness and speed but he also is a very smart football player,” James Franklin said after the game. “He’s really one of the most cerebral guys that we have. He’s a guy that once he gets your cadence, now you’re combining him having a really good feel for what your cadence is and now he’s able to anticipate and combine his athletic ability with his mental approach to the game as well.”
That mental preparation started late in his high school career, and that has only enhanced during his time at Penn State.
Defensive line coach Sean Spencer is a big part of this development, making Toney one of the smartest players on the team.
“I just prepare all week,” Toney said. “Coach Spencer gives me a lot of tips, a lot of things to do. I’m a big film guy. If you want to be a good pass rusher you gotta be able to know what’s going on.”
The mental preparation was a big boost for him when he got here because physically, he had plenty of room to grow.
“You look how Shaka has grown, really, since he stepped on campus, in every area,” Franklin said. “You look at him physically. We actually recruited him to be an outside linebacker first at 195 pounds. Changed his mind during the recruiting process and wanted to be a defensive end. You know, just has embraced it.”
His intellect separates him from the rest of the group, and other defenders have taken notice, seeing differences between him and Gross-Matos.
“The crazy part is that they are just so different. Yetur, he really knows how to use his hands well and body position. I was like, ‘Yo, Ye, how did you do that?’ Like one day he made this really nice move. He's like, ‘I keep my hands so tight to my body to make sure they don't let them touch me,’” Micah Parsons said. “And Shaka, he's always like, ‘You've just got to really get off the ball and really get him off his heels,’ and things like that.
“They have got two different skills and I think it causes a lot of trouble for most offensive linemen.”
Toney had to work hard when he got to Penn State, just to get bigger, and while it may have been difficult, he and Franklin we’re able to work to get to a point where he can be successful.
“He's a really good example of a young man coming to Penn State and taking advantage of all the resources…” Franklin said. “You know, I think we're able to work together because one of Shaka's greatest strengths and weaknesses, he can be stubborn at times. But I think because we have such a great relationship with the whole family, we work together. Shaka has got great perspectives. He's thoughtful. He's intelligent. He cares about his teammates. He cares about a lot of different subjects.”
With how smart he is, Franklin is excited to see what the future holds for Toney.
“He is a fiercely loyal guy to his teammates, very respected in our locker room,” Franklin said. “You know, he's really done well. I'm proud of him. I think he's going to continue to do great things here at Penn State. I think he's got a bright future after Penn State.”